HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – Sitting in a classroom with a teacher and friends is what Ryan, a high school senior in North Carolina, misses.
“He has mentioned how much he misses just being in the school,” said Ryan’s mom Dr. Jonna Bobzien.
Ryan started virtual learning this week.
This past school year, Bobzien said Ryan struggled with online learning.
“It was very different,” she said. “It was asynchronous online, just a lot of watching pre-recorded information and he really struggled with that, because there is no sense of interaction, nothing really to hold the attention of the learner.”
This academic year, however, he seems to be thriving.
“This year I find him, even though it’s only the first week, more excited,” said Bobzien. “His classes allow them to use avatars, so he can sit there and rock when he’s concentrating.”
Ryan has autism and ADHD, so focusing his attention and sitting still for long periods of time can be difficult.
Ryan is not unique. Many children now learning virtually are facing the same mundane challenge.
“Just sitting in front of a computer listening to your teacher talk or watching a video can be a little less entertaining as far as value or attention-getting,” Bobzien said.
Dr. Bobzien is not only a mom but she also chairs the Communication Disorders and Special Ed Department at ODU. Additionally, she is an associate professor in special ed at the university.
According to Bobzien, establishing a workspace for your child to call their own can make a difference.
“Helping them to feel like they’re in that real classroom setting,” she said. “In a classroom, teachers are skilled at minimizing distraction…. When we’re at home it can be more difficult.”
Wearing headphones can help students block out distractions.
As parents navigate the role of mom and dad and teacher, Bobzien said it’s key to establish a routine and structure with some flexibility. She said it’s also important to redirect a child’s attention rather than reprimand him.
“Students with attention difficulties, also students with autism, they really crave predictability and routine,” she said. “When you’re a virtual learner you have the opportunity to engage in some of those maybe unusual behaviors like rocking or spinning a pen that help you to focus without that sense of being pointed out.”
Though Ryan’s senior year isn’t what he was expecting, there may be an upside to learning online for him and others who shy away from public attention.
“With parents, may actually see, in some cases, improvements,” Bobzien said. “Sometimes students who do have difficulties don’t like being under the spotlight as much.”